Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

New Zealand. Just one example of why Marigold calls South Island ‘Wow Island.’

G Says...

Sorry, nothing from Marigold on this occasion. All the gadding about we've (not) been doing lately must have worn her out.

We're busy doin' nothin'

Workin' the whole day through

Tryin' to find lots of things not to do

We're busy goin' nowhere

Isn't it just a crime

We'd like to be unhappy,

but we never do have the time.

 

I’m officially ‘allowed out’ from 1st April. Released into the wild. Free as a bird.

Well, Woopie - Doo, I say. Am I supposed to be excited?

Freedom comes with limitations, obviously. My friend Matt Hancock wrote to me suggesting I don’t start hugging anybody. That’s not in my top 100 things to do on my release from captivity.

You can keep your freedom. I’ve gone right off the idea by now anyway.

Attempting to describe a comprehensive tour of New Zealand – or Aotearoa if using its Maori name meaning land of the long white cloud - within a single blog post is next to impossible. Not all the accompanying photos are mine, but where I have used another person's photograph it's in homage to the photographer in capturing scenes I made such a poor job of recording. 

We wrote in a previous blog entry about the month we spent wandering around North Island in a tiny and fairly ramshackle camper van. That wasn’t an easy task. Describing South Island is ten times worse. I’ll settle for attempting to cover the West Coast today, but it won’t be easy.

Marigold called South Island ‘Wow Island’ and just looking over some of the photos we took there has given me goosebumps. Don’t expect a mile by mile travelogue. I’m not organised enough to keep a contemporaneous journal and am reliant on memory, prompted in some measure by the ‘snaps’ I took on the trip. There’s going to be many places and events I’ve forgotten in the intervening 13 years, so I’ll concentrate on the (many) highlights.

So much variety. A ceaseless procession of dramatic, awe-inspiring landscapes and meeting some great people. That’s what travelling is all about. From soaring, snow tipped mountains, spectacular fiords, pounding waterfalls and iridescent turquoise lakes to golden beaches and ancient glaciers, everything on the South Island is majestic in scale and truly unforgettable.

Here goes. I’ll start at getting off the ferry from Wellington and hopefully do justice to the magnificent coastal strip. I won’t get as far as ‘Lands End’ in the Deep South, but there’s so much to talk about, so many memories . There’s more, much more, to add, but that will have to wait for another time.

The ferry trip across the Cook Strait took just under four hours, which a member of the crew told Marigold was ‘taking a bit slower than usual as the Captain was on the turps last night.’ Meaning, drunk! We were threading our way through a series of fairly narrow inlets between islands in Queen Charlotte Sound at the time. Fortunately he recognised Marigold’s incurable gullibility and reassured her.

It’s a spectacular cruise and we were lucky the weather was perfect. I remember passing Curious Cove which our new friend said used to be a party venue with a dubious reputation when he was a student and he’d met his future wife there. He didn’t look particularly thrilled by the recollection.

We landed in Picton, disembarkation was considerably quicker than when we drove aboard in Wellington, and it’s easily one of the most attractive ferry destinations we’ve seen. Certainly nothing like Dover or Calais. Some lovely beaches, cheerful cafes, all things we enjoy, but there was an entire island waiting so we set off, not necessarily with a destination in mind.

That system has served us well in the past. Just meandering around, taking the ‘tiki tour’ which is how Kiwis refer to taking a random scenic route rather than travelling with a purpose. We do a lot of tiki touring!

This may help to explain why after a brief exploration of Nelson, the actual geographical centre of New Zealand, we ended up at the remote wilderness of Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island, instead of setting off in a Southerly direction after leaving the ferry port.

The word ‘remote’ doesn’t really convey the nature of Cape Farewell. It’s certainly not a tourist location as we saw nobody there at all. There’s a clifftop walk notice board at the carpark, climbing up to Pillar Point lighthouse before continuing to Cape Farewell, and then to Wharariki Beach. It is recommended you stay a safe distance from the cliff edge, a common factor basically all the way, if it is windy.

It was very, very windy so we chickened out and drove our little van through the buffeting winds to the Cape Farewell carpark and it was only a 5 minute walk from there to the viewing platform overlooking the pounding waves far below. There were seals on the rocks, no doubt squinting to keep the wind lashed spray out of their eyes.

Safely back in the van, still sitting in solitary splendour on the car park, we decided to get away from nature’s bombardment and head ‘downwards’ along the West Coast. We spent ages trying to find a signposted campsite, without success, and as we hadn’t seen anyone else on the road for an hour ended up spending the night on a grass verge when it got dark.

The next morning was glorious so we decided to follow a road that appeared on the map to be a dead end. Brilliant decision. Karamea is busier than we’d expected after driving down a winding, narrow road to find it. It’s really charming, has plenty of hotels despite its remote situation and the brilliant Scott’s Beach was completely deserted.

Karamea has some impressive rock formations, wind sculptured limestone, but it’s mainly known as the starting point for the Heaphy Track, the longest of NZ’s Great Walks.

‘Only 78.4 kilometres,’ I said. ‘We could easily do that.’

Marigold thought otherwise.

A couple of years ago we met up with a young Kiwi woman at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall who was hiking – being a New Zealander she said ‘tramping,’ not ‘hiking’ – the South West coastal path and recommended we should ‘tramp’ the Heaphy Track if we ever went back to New Zealand. Neither of us mentioned having been there already and wimping out.

It turned out to be a six day hike through rough terrain, which Marigold pointed out would probably take us six weeks, so the decision to stay in the van was a sensible one. We retraced our steps and moved on down the coast.

Windscreen wipers are very useful for drying clothes

More here...

I can remember visiting Westport where we were repeatedly told it was the oldest European settlement on the west coast and used to be called Buller, but that’s about all I remember.

Just beyond Westport is the far from romantically named Cape Foulwind, much prettier than its name suggests, which had a dramatic lighthouse and a noisy seal colony. There were more seals at Charleston and many remnants of the area’s gold mining past.

When we reached Punakaiki, just following the coast road in the main as it’s simply magnificent, we had a problem with the van (not for the first time) and had to stay put for a couple of days. I’d already had to repair an exhaust pipe which was dragging on the floor and also make several ‘temporary’ repairs, but it now needed a garage.

We rang Wicked Campers back in Auckland who said I should get the work done, pay for it and they would reimburse me when I returned the van.

Hmm!

We found a mechanic who said I needed to leave it there overnight and a replacement part would be fitted tomorrow. I pushed the van into his workshop while Marigold chatted to the mechanic (fairly typical division of labour) and found the biggest dog in New Zealand chained to a bench and growling ferociously.

‘Shut your trap, Bambi’ the mechanic shouted.

Bambi? He must have named the beast when it was a tiny puppy, not expecting it to end up the size of a pony.

We found a hotel for the night as for some reason Marigold didn’t seem keen to sleep in the van with Bambi nearby. The hotel room had a vibrating bed and the television was pre tuned to pornographic channels so we weren’t expecting The Ritz, but it did at least make our minds up once and for all that vibrating beds are no longer on our wish list.

Instead of complimentary biscuits the hotel should supply sea sickness remedies.

We had a wonderful breakfast next morning. Our hotel stay included breakfast. We looked at the fare provided, Bambi would have rejected most of it, and went down the street to where a heavily tattooed woman was sitting at an outside table smoking a pipe. It was a Maori owned business and the tattooed woman was the chef.

Possibly the best breakfast we’ve ever eaten. There were photos of her three teenage sons on the wall, all in rugby kit as it’s virtually compulsory in New Zealand. They were excellent advertisements for their mother’s cooking, very sturdy lads.

We collected the van a couple of hours later. Pete, our mechanic, had driven to Westport, an hours drive away, last night to collect the water pump our van needed and had been working since ‘sparrow fart’ this morning to fit it for us. Fantastic service for ‘cold callers’ in a hired van and he persistently refused to let us pay for the repairs.

‘I’ll invoice them,’ he insisted, ‘it’s their van, their problem.’

I asked him about the bodged up repairs I had made to the exhaust pipe and he just said ‘she’ll be right.’ Praise indeed but he still didn’t offer me a job as a master mechanic.

That expression, ‘she’ll be ’right’ neatly sums up the entire Kiwi attitude to life. It just means ‘don’t worry, it’ll all turn out all right in the end’. Positivity, just one of the many reasons we love this country and its people.

We certainly loved Pete. I gave him twenty dollars which he took only after Marigold said he could buy something for Bambi with it. The hound of the Baskervilles turned out to be a real softie when off his chain, but as he had spent the night lying on an oil spill we didn’t stroke him much.

Punakaiki is deservedly famous for its pancake rocks and blowholes. There you are, that’s an impressive claim. The Pancake Rocks at Dolomite Point are formed from heavily eroded limestone and in the same area the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes shooting a fountain of water into the air. Very dramatic and great fun.

We wandered around the pancake rocks and shrieked every time the spray from a blowhole drenched us. I read a noticeboard, even took a photo of it (much of my terrifyingly random knowledge is derived from reading noticeboards) telling inquisitive readers the structure of the pancake rocks began forming 30 million years ago when minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed far below the surface where water pressure caused them to solidify into layers of more resistant limestone and the softer sedimentary layers.

Now the rocks are above the water line the softer layers have eroded producing an effect like a stack of pancakes. It’s striking and interesting in a geological fashion, but the blow holes are much more fun.

Pancake rocks

A blowhole

A bit more...

We spent a couple of days in and around Hokitika, another of the West Coast towns that only came into being during the Gold Rush days about 150 or so years ago. It calls itself the Cool Little Town these days, but I don’t remember seeing or hearing that expression when we were there. There are some lovely old buildings and lots of shops selling handcrafted jewellery and pottery.
I think the local greenstone was called pounamu and Marigold bought some ear rings which didn’t survive the trip. Someone on a camp site gained a pair of green ear rings.

We found a good camp site there as a break from rough camping. Brilliant showers and the best barbecue set up we’ve ever seen. We were cooking our pathetic fare of sausages, bacon and a jacket potato each when the young couple, the girl was only 18, next to us asked if we wanted to share their food as they were leaving in the morning and had bought far too much meat.

The girl was ‘trying to put off the idea of going out to work’ and they had been travelling around New Zealand for three months. Her boyfriend, a few years older, had recently finished his Israeli army service and on the day of his discharge had set off to see the world. They’d met up when he reached New Zealand and I hope they stayed together because they were perfectly suited.

I can’t remember their names but the boy was thinking about becoming a chef and watching him slice tomatoes into microscopically thin sections, his hands a blur of motion, while carrying on a conversation I had been convinced he was well on the way.

We had one of those laughter filled memorable nights we remember vividly even now and finally staggered off to our beds in the middle of the night. We watched their van leave the next day and discovered they had left a bag of yet more meat on our bonnet as a farewell gift. Our barbecue that night was certainly impressive.

That’s one of the joys of ‘van life:’ meeting strangers and enjoying their company before parting never to meet again but leaving memories behind. We’ve enjoyed so many chance encounters on our travels and, much as we love seeing different parts of the world and experiencing different cultures, the icing on the cake is the people we meet along the way.

Hokitika Gorge is about twenty miles inland from the coast and we stayed there all day and only drove back as we were still booked into our campsite and had left a big bag of meat in the communal fridge. The gorge is not touristy at all; just nature at its finest. The lushness of a rain forest leads into the main attraction, the gorgeous turquoise water far below. There’s a pretty scary swing bridge overlooking the sparkling water.

We’ve had a few hairy moments on swing bridges over precipitous drops in the past when some idiot decides it would be funny to start jumping and swaying to make their vacuous girlfriends start screaming, but we had no problems on this occasion. We were still glad to get to the other side though.

It’s worth it, most definitely, this had to be one of the most spectacularly ‘scenic’ places we have ever seen.

If you’ve been worrying, our meat was still in the communal fridge when we got back.

Lots of silliness in Ross, once a centre of gold mining and prospecting. We found the whole ‘be a gold miner for the day’ experience hilarious and as we seemed to be in a minority of two this made it even funnier. Cardboard figures with cutouts for the public’s faces and an old town gaol, complete with stocks, we found everything riotously funny.

Ah well, we do have our frivolous days. Quite often, actually and we’ve still not found a cure for occasional silliness.

The largest gold nugget in New Zealand was found here in 1909. The ‘Honourable Roddy Nugget’ was as big as a man’s fist and weighed 99 ounces. We didn’t find any. Not that we bothered to look very hard. The Honorable Roddy was presented to King George V on his coronation, but then vanished. The Palace eventually confessed it had been melted down in error and used to gild a Royal tea service. Unfortunately no one was able to locate the tea service either.

New Zealanders are pretty insouciant by nature, but that debacle must have provoked an increased interest in Republicanism!

We’d been seeing snow capped mountains in the distance for a few days by now and finally reached one of the main tourist hotspots, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. We visited both, but the Franz Josef was easily the best. It’s the third-most-visited tourist spot in New Zealand, around 250,000 visitors a year when we were there.

Nowadays the visitors are three times that number, but they have to miss out on a glacier walk as part of the glacier collapsed in 2012 and it’s now too dangerous to go beyond the barriers. None of those safety considerations were in effect in 2008 so we were free to scrabble and slide around on the blue tinged ice trying to remain upright.

A couple far above us appeared to have perfect balance, putting our efforts to shame, until we realised on returning to the car park, which is a fair trek from the glacier face, there were boots with crampons attached available to hire.

Like all the glaciers we’ve seen throughout the world, they have the capacity to invoke a feeling of awe. There was an (expensive) option to fly over the area by helicopter. Marigold pointed out we could easily afford to do that if we didn’t eat or buy petrol for the rest of the trip.

We took the sensible choice.

After visiting the Fox Glacier, just as impressive but Marigold had developed glacier fatigue by then so we didn’t make any long treks, we found ourselves back on the coast at a tiny little place, Bruce Bay. There was a beach, plenty of driftwood washed up by the tide and only two other people in sight.

We walked to the far end of the beach and back. Long enough to realise why the trees here were growing horizontally rather than vertically – it was very windy – and that even the tiniest creatures can pose great problems. Yes, we were now in Sandfly Heaven and from now on would be eaten alive by the wretched things. More of that later.

Well, would you be looking cheerful if you'd been panning for gold for months and only got that little bit?

About time too

Marigold didn't fancy the clothes worn by the gold rush 'ladies'

Finally...

Haast is now a world heritage site. Situated on the western edge of Mount Aspiring National Park, UNESCO has compared it to the Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef as a significant natural treasure. I’m not taking issue with UNESCO, but we’ve been to both these Natural Wonders and Haast isn’t in that league.

That’s not to say it isn’t fabulous, because it is. A number of small settlements are linked together under the Haast umbrella: Haast township and Haast Beach, Okuru, Hannahs Clearing, Neils Beach and Jackson Bay. There’s about fifty miles separating Haast Town from Jackson Bay, a huge tract of land with a great variety of things to see. We liked it so much we stayed for several days, parking up on deserted beaches or tranquil inland settings at night.

Magical. Haast Beach was pretty busy and great fun and we took the opportunity to travel along the (not busy at all) coast, returning to our ‘base’ at night. Everywhere we go around here people keep telling us there are little blue, some other sort of penguins fur seals and dolphins ‘everywhere.’ We haven’t even seen one.

Typical.

What we had seen lots of was baches. I don’t know the exact spelling of the word, but a ‘bach’ is a New Zealand phenomenon and we love them. My impression was they were originally ‘bachelor pads’ - spartan, extremely basic ‘second home’ shacks erected on sea shores, by lakes or in the wilderness and intended as retreats for single men to get away and do a bit of fishing or sailing in their free time. There are many of the ramshackle persuasion, but they’re nowadays more of a middle class lifestyle option, often rented out for holidays.

Neils Beach was once a fishing village, but now it’s basically a site for baches, some of them fitting the shabby chic genre to perfection. Of course, not for the first time, on mentioning how much we liked their bach the owners had been quick to point out our ignorance.

‘It’s a crib, mate. You’re not in North Island now.’

Yes, it is confusing. In North island, they say bach but in South Island, it's a crib. Same difference, but we readily acknowledged our error.

We’d already been ‘outed’ as foreigners by mentioning the flip-flops Marigold was wearing on her feet being no longer fit for purpose. We’d committed the same crime in Australia where those basic items of footwear are called ‘thongs.’ In New Zealand, as we now know, we should have been saying ‘jandals.‘

Isn’t the world of footwear complicated? My personal favourite – yes I now usually make a point of asking what the locals call them – Is Klip klappere in Denmark. So wonderfully onomatopoeic.

Jackson Bay is where the road ends. As good a reason as any for making it a must see destination. Between Neils Beach and Jackson Bay we came across the Arawhata Pioneer Cemetary, the last resting place of many of the first Europeans to reach the lonely outpost of Jackson Bay. As with so many graveyards it spoke of crushed dreams and shattered lives in this harsh environment.

I’ve written previously of our fascination with gravestones and this was one of the most memorable. We also came across a single grave of one of the first settlers on the shore. I can only remember his first name was Claude and he died very young.

We had a fabulous meal on the Esplanade at The Craypot, best described as a ‘pop up restaurant’ as it started life as a pie cart and that’s still how the locals referred to it. It started life many miles inland in its previous format and was towed here through the mountains by tractor. A great back story and good food, especially the seafood so it was perfect for Marigold.

The only downside of this area had been the aforementioned sandflies. I haven’t worn socks, long trousers or long sleeved shirts for many months while on tour and as a result had been eaten alive in this area by the almost invisible enemy. Marigold seems rather less prone to their attack.

Not for the first time I cursed my excessive attractiveness.

I tried insect repellent which is certainly repellent, but sandflies seemed to like it and I ended up asking a half naked* woman selling bottled water what was her secret for deterring the wretched insects.

‘Born and raised here,’ she said. ‘Your body grows a second skin after a few years. They’ve really got you, haven’t they?’

Yes, they certainly had. It’s discriminatory, isn’t it, only picking on tourists to provide a meal?’

*Please note, I wrote ‘half naked’ water seller, not ‘attractive’ or ‘young’ half naked water seller. The born and raised local’s appearance would have been vastly improved by more clothing. Had to admire her ‘in yer face’ attitude though.

We also ventured inland into the Lost World setting of the Mount Aspiring National Park. Our destination was, as ever, ‘up in the air,’ but at our first stop we got talking to a group of four students who were travelling the route in the opposite direction and had set off from Queenstown. We learnt a couple of new expressions – a university student is a ‘scarfie’ – as they habitually wear bright coloured university scarves as a ‘scarfie uniform’ – and the place where we were chatting was ‘in the wop-wops,’ meaning an out of the way spot in the middle of nowhere. Marigold loved that one, she still says it even now.

Thanks, scarfies.

We took a spur of the moment decision to press on as far as Lake Wanaka rather than dawdling along and stopping at every viewpoint as we hadn’t come across any alternative options for spending the night The road leading us there had many of the ‘wow’ moments we were becoming accustomed to by now.

Waterfalls, oh yes, lots of waterfalls, some with wonderfully explicit names such as Roaring Billy plus vast areas of stunning natural beauty. Roaring Billy and Crikey Creek, such great names and I photographed three separate signs on bridges crossing Roaring Swine Creek.

We often had to park up and hike through forest trails, but that was no hardship as the weather was beautiful. We’d been climbing steadily from the coast and I can’t imagine this road being so easy to drive along in winter with snow falling. Makarora is only a very small town, but we were glad to have found a good campsite there where we could have a shower and make yet more running repairs to the camper van.

Typically, it ran perfectly in built up areas, but the minute we entered the wop-wops...

I fixed the problem, with help from two women who were not only far better than me at solving mechanical problems, but also gave Marigold and I a haircut when we’d finished the job. They were camping, in a tent that had seen better days, and riding ‘two up’ on a vintage motorcycle.

They had both been working ‘across the ditch’ in Australia as exotic dancers in strip clubs and had managed to save enough money to buy a night club of their own in Queenstown.

‘Come and see us, we’ll be all set up in a couple of weeks,’ they said.

Night clubs and exotic dancers in decadent Queenstown! I just lusted after their motorbike.

We shared a barbecue with the dancing car mechanics and had another laughter filled evening. After quite a few beers had mysteriously vanished from the crate the conversation turned to the Haast’s eagle, the largest eagle species on Earth.

We must have looked baffled but it transpired our chances of seeing this phenomenon were remote as it had been extinct for hundreds of years, but the association with Haast still remains. Their descriptions sounded extremely unlikely to us and we assumed it was the beer talking.

Much later I looked up the Haast Eagle. It had an eight foot wingspan and preyed mostly on moa, like the ostrich huge birds far too heavy to fly and weighing up to twenty stones or even more in adulthood. The Haast Eagle became extinct after the moa were themselves hunted to extinction by the newly arrived Maori tribes. That’ll teach me to doubt the word of exotic dancers.

They also told us to go and visit the blue pools but resist the temptation to swim there as the water was freezing. Next morning the exotic dancers left early; waking us and everybody else in the vicinity when their bike roared off.

We went to see the Blue Pools, not far away, which is a river and not really pools as such but the water was certainly very blue indeed. A few more swing bridges as well. By now we were skipping across them with barely a thought of the possible consequences. Maybe we were cured.

Lake Wanaka is big. Really big. Twice the size of Loch Ness and deeper too. But no monsters. Unless they were very shy monsters.

‘You must go and see the tree,’ someone on the camp site said to Marigold on the previous  night when she told them we were going to Lake Wanaka, ‘it’s famous.’

‘Oh, right, whereabouts is it?’

‘No idea, but everybody says it’s worth seeing.’

Not very helpful. The lake is longer than the width of the English Channel. We used to live in Folkestone and on a clear day we could see the French coast from the Lees promenade, but there was no chance of seeing the far end of this lake.

Of course we could have asked a local the whereabouts of the tree , but where’s the fun in that?

We walked left, (when there’s a choice turn left is not exactly a rule in our household, but it’s certainly a common response) and pretty soon, there it was. This must be the most photographed tree in the country.

‘You’ve taken a photograph of a tree in a lake,’ Marigold said. ‘Can we go back now?’

She’d developed a blister on her heel and even a spectacularly photogenic tree in a lake wasn’t compensating for the prospect of yet more walking today. We walked/hobbled back to the van.

Who knows what we missed by not circumnavigating the lake, now we’ll never know. We could have managed it inside 24 hours with ease!

Many years later we took a photo of the Lone Cypress, a solitary tree on a headland alongside Pebble Beach golf course in California. It’s an iconic tree and much photographed.

‘It’s almost a compulsion with you,’ Marigold said. ‘First that tree in New Zealand and now this. Is it a tree fetish?’

Two ‘tree photos,’ with a ten year interval between? No, I’m not worried about arboreal fixation syndrome.

Onward, ever onward, this time to Queenstown. We’d originally intended to explore the whole of the coast first, but after heading inland we were well on the way to Queenstown anyway and retracing our steps to the west coast wouldn’t be a hardship on such a scenic route. Still to come after Queenstown there’s the magic of Milford Sound and The Southland from Invercargill to Dunedin via an area we loved perhaps more than any other: The Catlins. All of that in the next blog post and there’s still so much more after that. For now though, enough!!

Not far to the mountains now

Blue is the colour

I don't even remember this, but it was in Hokitika

A typical bach

Another Wicked Camper spotted

Franz Josef glacier

A reminder of 'our' van

Here's the other side

Now, that's more like it...

An overnight stay in the wop wops

Sand fly bites

Roaring Swine no 1

Roaring Swine 2

Number 3

Roaring Billy, Roaring Swine, how about Crikey Creek?

The lonely grave on the shore. Loving the arum lilies